Memories and Musings: Where have all the marbles gone?

Published 10:01 am Friday, February 18, 2022

By Gene Gallelli

Reflecting on how things have changed is mind-boggling! For instance, watching the yellow school bus pass the house is, for me, a daily reminder that growing up we didn’t have them. Also, my elementary school “cafeteria” was a designated room where I sat side-by-side with schoolmates eating peanut butter or bologna sandwiches while I devoured two, two-slice pepper-and-egg “monoliths” on fresh-baked Italian bread. (They did provide, for five cents, ”glass” pints of plain or chocolate milk.) I always had the luxury of trading for any sandwich I desired because everyone wanted one of my grandmother’s pepper-and-egg masterpieces.

We also had the one-hour option of walking home for lunch. When I did that, lunch was usually hamburgers between two slices of Wonder bread or hot dogs folded in slices of Wonder bread. Occasionally – on lucky days – grandma would brush olive oil on sliced-down-the-middle Italian bread, lightly broil it, and cover it with slices of meatballs from Sunday’s pasta sauce. (She was making pizza bread long before the craze hit today’s supermarkets.)

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I’m certain everyone has noticed that “modern” school children who step outside to await the school bus or jump in their cars to drive to class, have a backpack dangling on their backs. Compare, also, the celebrity-endorsed “sneakers” that cost a week’s salary to the black, high Converse sneakers that only set us back a few bucks at King’s Haberdashery.

Okay! I’ve accounted for many of the things we didn’t have during my elementary school years, but there were two items my friends and I were rarely without: a jackknife (not in school) and a bag of marbles.

The jackknife was for surviving in the dangerous, rabbit-filled jungle of our village – actually the empty lot next to Mr. and Mrs. Tallarico’s house. (We used the knife to make bows and arrows for “hunting” and to fashion “shelters” to protect us from the blazing 80-degree heat!) However, the jackknife always played second fiddle to our treasured, glittering bag of marbles.

To us, the sparkling, multicolored balls of glass were like rubies, diamonds and sapphires found at the end of a rainbow. We diligently collected and aggressively protected our bag of glowing spheres – “losing your marbles” had a different meaning back in the day.

Marble competitions consisted of one contestant tossing a marble on someone’s lawn and the competitor tossing and trying to hit it with his or her marble. If your toss hit a marble, it became yours, or vice versa.

There were a few bullies who would slip into our neighborhood with a marble bag containing the dreaded “steely” that was actually a large, deadly and unfair shiny ball-bearing. We eventually evened the playing field when our fathers and uncles – many of whom worked at the New York Central Car Shops – embezzled some “steelies” for our bags.

You don’t see marbles very often nowadays except, perhaps, as manipulatives for learning to do math in school. To this day, when I see them, they remain in my eyes the beautiful, precious jewels they were long ago.

In closing, I suggest you acquire a small sack, buy some marbles and take a like-minded friend to your front lawn and have a game of marbles.

Enjoy and watch out for steelies.

Gene Gallelli was Associate Superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his Doctor of Education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.